NORAD tracking Santa on Christmas Eve started with a misprinted phone number

This year, NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command  — celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of tracking Santa’s progress as he delivers presents to the good boys and girls of the world. Every year on Christmas Eve, NORAD purports to track Santa Claus as he leaves the North Pole and delivers presents to children around the world. This year, starting at 12:01 am on December 24, interested folks can track Santa via NORAD’s Santa Tracker Website, mobile phone apps, and through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+ via the handle @NORADSanta.

Volunteers monitor phones and computers while tracking Santa Claus at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Dec. 24. More than 1,200 volunteers from across the base and community join to cover shifts spanning the 23 hours of tracking that the North American Aerospace Defense Command hosts annually, dating back to pre-NORAD 1955. (Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh/Released)

Volunteers monitor phones and computers while tracking Santa Claus at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. More than 1,200 volunteers from across the base and community join to cover shifts spanning the 23 hours of tracking that the North American Aerospace Defense Command hosts annually. (Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh)

The program started somewhat by chance on December 24, 1955 when a Sears department store placed an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper telling children they could telephone Santa Claus. However, the telephone number printed was erroneously that of the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center (CONAD), NORAD’s predecessor.

Santa visited Peterson AFB for his NORAD mission brief in preparation for Christmas Eve Dec. 16. People can find out where Santa is Dec. 24 all day by calling NORAD at 1-877-Hi-NORAD or by visiting www.noradsanta.org. (Photo by: MC2 (AW) Bansil, Jhomil,) NORADSanta

Santa visited Peterson AFB for his NORAD mission brief in preparation for Christmas Eve Dec. 16. People can find out where Santa is Dec. 24 all day by calling NORAD at 1-877-Hi-NORAD or by visiting www.noradsanta.org. (Photo by: MC2 (AW) Bansil, Jhomil,) NORADSanta

Santa visited Peterson AFB in 2014 for his NORAD mission brief in preparation for Christmas Eve. (Photo by: MC2 (AW) Bansil, Jhomil)

Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup was on duty that night and told his staff to give all children who called in a “current location” for Santa Claus — and a Christmas Eve tradition was born, now known as the “NORAD Tracks Santa” program. 

Colonel Harry Shoup, USAF

Colonel Harry Shoup, USAF

OnStar subscribers can press the button in their vehicles and ask for Santa’s location, Windows Phone users can ask Cortana, and starting at 6 a.m. Eastern Time, the kids can just dial  toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or send an email to noradtrackssanta@outlook.com.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACJJi5re5NU

NORAD’s Santa operation has come a long way. Today it seems as complex as the hunt for Osama bin Laden but when it first started it was just a number children could call.

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Shoup’s children, Terri Van Keuren, 65, Rick Shoup, 59, and Pam Farrell, 70, told NPR’s StoryCorps about how the tradition began.

Terri remembers her dad had two phones on his desk, including a red one. “Only a four-star general at the Pentagon and my dad had the number,” she says.“The red phone rang one day in December 1955, and Shoup answered it, Pam says. “And then there was a small voice that just asked, ‘Is this Santa Claus?’ “

His children remember Shoup as straight-laced and disciplined, and he was annoyed and upset by the call and thought it was a joke — but then, Terri says, the little voice started crying.

“And Dad realized that it wasn’t a joke,” her sister says. “So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho’d and asked if he had been a good boy and, ‘May I talk to your mother?’
Read the full story of Col. Shoup establishing NORAD Santa Tracker at NPR’s StoryCorps.

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